In last week’s coverage of the Oxford American’s can’t-miss Georgia Music Issue I intentionally skimmed over two of the state’s most storied musical towns because I wanted to give them a bit more bandwidth (yes, that’s a pun): Athens and Macon. Both cities have walking tours that give music fans insight into the bands, venues and landmarks that figure prominently in local music history.
The magazine holds a wonderful, wide-ranging 20-page history of Athens’ musical heritage. Art Rosenbaum’s thoughtful reflection on the town’s African-American gospel and work song (that’s where R.E.M. got the idea) traditions are its centerpiece, but most of the section offers vignettes of the ’80s-forward indie rock bands most often associated with the University of Georgia’s home.
Athens is a great walking city, and even in February you’re as likely as not to be greeted with open-jacket weather. A self-guided tour of musical attractions is available on the Athens Welcome Center’s website and allows ample opportunity for detours and freelancing. I never pass through Athens without a stop at The Grit, the homey diner whose breakfast dishes and pastries are so tasty one barely notices they’re meat-free. The C-00 film production company of R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe was housed in the building’s upstairs office, by the way.
If you prefer more structure, guided versions of the tour will be offered June 24-26 to coincide with the 20th annual AthFest, a weekend-long indoor/outdoor music event. And guided tours are always available for groups of five or more with a few days’ advance notice.
Macon’s musical history runs the gamut from the Allman Brothers to Little Richard to Otis Redding. The first two are subjects of lengthy Oxford American features, and Redding’s emotional (even by his high standards) “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember” graces the 25-track CD that accompanies the issue. Rock Candy Tours offers a series of curated strolls — some running on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, others for custom scheduling. The road may not go on quite forever, but it sure helps to have someone show you the high points. The Big House Museum, the Allman Brothers’ showpiece, is another worthwhile stop.
Because walking works up an appetite (and because I’m always thinking about food), don’t don’t miss a chance to dine at H&H Soul Food, a favorite of the Allmans and other bands from the legendary Capricorn Records label, not to mention countless locals.
Glen Sarvady is Georgia’s official Music Explorer. He has lived in Atlanta for more than 20 years, and has written about music both locally and nationally for at least as long. More recently, he has written regularly for the music/arts publication Stomp & Stammer as well as GeorgiaMusic.org. You can learn more about the Oxford American’s Georgia Music issue in Glen’s piece at GeorgiaMusic.org.